University can be a tough go for anyone. Stress about school, friends, sports, financials — it can be a lot to handle as it piles up. For most of us, however, we have the chance to be ourselves in the way that we want to be. We can get jobs (if we work for it), make friends with people of common interests and use that spare cash from our student loans or summer jobs to go out on the occasional — or every — weekend. Even something as simple as being comfortable in the washroom or at a bar surrounded by people, we can do that. That being said, some of us aren’t so lucky.
For those of you who don’t already know, this is the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) definition of transgender:
“Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.”
As opposed to:
“Cisgender: Adjective used to describe someone who conforms within the social gender norms of their sex assigned at births. Antonym to transgender.”
The impact of being transgender on a person’s life is, unfortunately, riddled with negativity and stigma. People in the transgender community spend most of their lives being ostracized by society for something that they have no control over. By “coming out,” trans+ people risk losing their jobs, friends, families and homes. Everything they try to do is prefaced with misunderstanding and generalization. This social and financial impact can cause a person significant stress and greatly effect ones mental health, regardless of anything else that is happening in their lives.
Rejection from jobs is just the start of it. Health care, especially in New Brunswick, is very poor. Some doctors and medical facilities turn people away using excuses such as “we can’t give that kind of care.” I’m sorry but what kind of care? Health care? Like the only thing in the world that you are actually supposed to do and you can’t do it?
Also regarding health care in New Brunswick, men are allowed to get breast reduction surgery for mental health implications. Which is awesome, except for the part where it’s not all men, just some men. Trans men (female to male) are not recognized as “men” and their need for breast reduction surgery isn’t a concern. But then there is the part where, in order to transition under law in most cases, you need to have some form of gender confirming surgery. What this means is that in order to be considered for coverage of this surgery you either need to be born a male or recognized by the government as “M” on your documents with no asterisks. But in order to get the big “M,” you need a surgery.
The transition process is exceptionally financially demanding. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can cost over $1,000 a year, and that is the least expensive part. To even get to that point there are a series of professionals in the field that must evaluate you in order to see if you meet the requirements needed to transition. In most cases, especially around small towns, this means that you have to travel, then pay for the appointment (easily $200 per hour) and then travel back. After you have been evaluated, then you can begin the process of medically transitioning via HRT and a vast array of surgeries. Breast reduction/implants start at approximately $11,000. Hysterectomies cost $3,000. Genitalia surgeries are the steepest, starting at $20,000 and going all the way past $45,000. To put that in perspective, tuition at this school for a year is under $8,000. With the money spent on the most expensive surgery, you could do a full five-year program, all “extra-curricular” activities included, debt free.
Transgender people are exactly what you think: people, just like anyone else. As a result, they are entitled to equally as many healthcare options and compensation as everyone else. They deserve to have the opportunity to get jobs that they want if they have the credentials, without being prescreened for expressing their gender identity. They should be able to feel safe in social environments without the threat of verbal or physical scrutiny.
The financial, social, and emotional stress of being in university can be too much for some. Now, double the financial demand, social exclusion, and emotional pressure. That is what it is like to be transgender. That is the cost of being yourself.
NOTE: For most of the definitions to terms used in this column amongst others, go to: http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender